Postcard from Europe: Suomenlinna, fortress of Finland

What does a toy museum, a brewery, and a WWII submarine have in common?

To be honest, not much. But you can find all three amongst a group of rocky islands that make up Suomenlinna, the fortress-turned-community that is one of Helsinki’s most popular attractions.

Built in 1748 when Finland was part of the Swedish Empire, the fortress has gone through a number of name changes.

Originally called Sveaborg by it’s architect Augustin Ehrensvärd, the fortress was successfully used as Sweden’s base for military operations during the Russo-Swedish War (1788-1790).

But by 1808, the two empires were at war again, fighting this time for the control of Finland. The Russians won and Sveaborg became Russia’s westernmost Baltic fortress, complete with a new name – Viapori.

And Viapori it would remain until the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.  At this time, the fortress was returned to Finland, and renamed Suomenlinna, which means ‘Fortress of Finland’. It then continued as an active military fort until 1973 when it was designated a national park.

Two decades later, it became a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site


The old military fortress has been transformed into an open-air museum, a place where you can walk among the gun ports, into the artillery tunnels, behind the walls, and around 18th century cannons.

The cliffs and beaches of Suomenlinna have become favorite picnic areas for the locals, but I have to admit, the day I was there, the wind and the rain totally cancelled out any ideas for a picnic.

Luckily, though, there are a number of cafes and restaurants scattered around, including Helsinki’s largest brewery,  where you can hid from the rain (and in winter, the snow) while sampling a variety of brews, including a dark Helsinki Portteri.

Getting there:  There are regular 15 minute ferry trips to Suomenlinna year round from Helsinki’s Market Square.

(photos @Liz Lewis)


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